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Interview: ‘Space Force’s Tawny Newsome Talks ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’

August 7, 2020Ben MK

Going from a General in America's Space Force to an Ensign in Starfleet may seem like something of a career downgrade, but for Tawny Newsome it's anything but. After all, it's not every day that you get to play a leading role on one of the most iconic sci-fi franchises of all time. And in Mike McMahan's new animated comedy series Star Trek: Lower Decks, Newsome (best known to television viewers for her roles alongside Steve Carell in Space Force and Hank Azaria in Brockmire) is stepping up to the challenge, as her character, Ensign Beckett Mariner, helps a rough-around-the-edges group of Starfleet newbies show the upper ranks just what can be accomplished when you think outside of the box.

I caught up with Tawny Newsome to chat about Star Trek: Lower Decks and bringing an authentic voice to her character, and to find out more about her musical career and the album she's been putting together during quarantine.

First of all, how have you been keeping busy during the pandemic and how are you adjusting to the weird new normal that we're all in?

Newsome: I've been very busy. We had wrapped filming Space Force in January and so I had a bunch of ADR recording to do from home for that. And then we instantly launched into recording additional stuff for Lower Decks right after that. It's been kind of non-stop. It's been strange to do everything from home but everybody really figured it out. And then between promoting Space Force and Lower Decks, I've also been working on music. I'm a musician as well — so, you know, recording stuff in my little home studio. It's been good.

Were you already a big Star Trek fan prior to landing your role in the show? What's been the best part so far about being a part of such an iconic sci-fi franchise and what is it about shows about space that really appeals to you?

Newsome: Yeah, I was a fan before. And I think the most interesting part for me has been learning more about the original series, which I didn't watch as much. I was more a fan of the '90s trifecta — Deep Space Nine is my favorite show out of them. And Mike McMahan, our show runner, is like a personal Google for all things Star Trek. So in developing a friendship with him through working on this, it's been really fun to go back and rewatch older episodes or episodes of The Next Generation I haven't seen in a lot of years. To watch them with this fresh lens and go, "Oh yeah, I remember the episode with Miles O'Brien and the Rumpelstiltskin from Deep Space Nine." It's just a different lens to look back on things and relive them a different way.

I just love a good, fun script and story. And to be able to be part of the Star Trek franchise wasn't something that I thought I'd be able to do, necessarily. Because there are such serious actors that tend to gravitate towards it or that tend to be best suited to it. So to have it be a comedy is really exciting and cool for me. And to have it be animated, there's so much freedom in what they can do from week to week. I love it.

How important is it to you to be able to bring an authentic voice to your character, especially given all the controversy in the industry with non-ethnic actors voicing ethnic roles?

Newsome: Yeah, those shows shouldn't have done that. And ours didn't, from the start. Because Mike McMahan just cast people and drew characters. I think it just makes sense to have people voice characters that they are. Except for the aliens — I guess we don't have an actual Orion in the cast, but that would probably be hard to find.

Now that the show is out, do you have a favorite moment from the pilot that was maybe especially memorable or a lot of fun to work on?

Newsome: Oh gosh, the pilot. I have so many favorite memories from the full season, but I guess in the pilot I do love the Holodeck sequence with [Ensign] Tendi — showing her what a beach is, for instance. Because she's an Orion character and she says on Orion they don't have beaches or sand. Little things like that make me feel like it's classic Trek. It's not even a huge joke, it's just a subtle, little reminder that people's worlds are different. I like that moment.

I spoke with your co-stars, Jack Quaid and Jerry O'Connell, and both of them had nothing but good things to say about you. What was it like working with them and the rest of the cast?

Newsome: They're fantastic. Like I said about Mike, he's just a treasure trove of knowledge and he's eager to share it with you. He's not the type who knows everything about a subject and then looks down at you for not being as invested of a fan as he is. If anything, he's excited to help you learn more. So for our show, my performance could be better if I fully knew all of the details of the deep cut references that he and the writers had put in the script.

And same thing with Jack. Jack and I got to record a little bit of stuff together in the booth. But schedules were a little wild because he was filming The Boys up in Toronto through most of our first sessions for Lower Decks. So we didn't get to improvise together as much as we all wanted to. But Mike let us have so much freedom that they ended up layering all of our voice work in a really cool way, despite us not being together all the time.

Aside from your own character, do you have a favorite character in Lower Decks (or in Star Trek in general)?

Newsome: My favorite character on Lower Decks is the ship. [laughs] And in Trek in general, I'm a big fan of Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine. Speaking of adult friendships, I love the relationship Mariner and [Ensign] Boimler have cuz they're just complete opposite people but they end up being really supportive of each other — so with Dax and Ben Sisko, that was one of my favorites. Even as a kid not understanding this adult friendship, with her being a Trill and having this symbiont that knew Sisko from before and how that informed their friendship with her being in this new body. Yeah, I love layered interpersonal relationship things like that. And everybody loves Quark, right? We gotta shout it out to Quark.

Of course, you mentioned that you're also a musician. And while we do get a bit of a preview of Mariner's musical abilities early on in the first few episodes, is there any chance that we'll get to hear Mariner really belt out some tunes later on in the season?

Newsome: Oh, I wonder! Maybe if they let me write the music. Because I know we had a song that she was gonna sing. And then they couldn't get the rights to it, so that got nixed. But maybe if I just write the music then I'll let them use it. [laughs] Then we won't be in trouble with copyright stuff.

Last but not least, what do you have coming up on the horizon?

Newsome: In October, I'm gonna be releasing an album — something that I wrote and recorded and engineered myself during this quarantine. I'm really looking at that as my big project from this time of being at home. My bandmate, Bethany Thomas, and I just really decided to put ourselves at the front of a band. We've been backing up these really cool rock musicians and punk musicians for ten years or so — and this is our chance to step out in front, do everything ourselves, record it ourselves, produce it ourselves. So, yeah, we made a big, noisy, windy rock and roll record at my home studio here. I'm super excited to put that out there.

Star Trek: Lower Decks airs Thursdays on CTV Sci-Fi Channel, Crave and CBS All Access.

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